By Jennifer Forsberg Meyer

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Courtesy of Jamie Thompson
Credit: Courtesy of Jamie Thompson
Jamie Thompson and Cowboy tackle a tire pyramid.
Obstacles make life interesting; overcoming them leads to success. It’s true in the world at large and in your horse world, too. Let’s talk about how work over obstacles can benefit both you and your horse.

Obviously, if you compete in trail events or love to ride out on the trail, practicing with obstacles can improve the skills you need to succeed in tough competition or enjoy a challenging trail. Sometimes, as with the pair in the photo, overcoming a particularly daunting obstacle (like tires!) brings a boost of confidence that leads to a breakthrough in training.

But obstacle work can do so much more than just prepare you for competition. Specifically, it can also improve:

Your ‘feel.’ Guiding your horse through gates, across bridges, and over logs develops your skills as a rider. You learn to feel where your horse’s various body parts are at any given moment, so you can influence them with your cues. Highly developed feel is what makes a truly polished rider. (For more on the much-sought-after quality of rider feel, check the Confident Rider page with Laurel Walker Denton in the January 2017 issue of Horse&Rider.)

Your balance. When you’re concentrating on navigating an obstacle, you’re not obsessing over your riding. You’re becoming a more balanced, fluent, natural rider of necessity. Because otherwise you will not get your horse through that hay-bale zig-zag maze, or down and then out of that ditch.

Your horse’s movement. Trotting or loping your horse over poles improves his balance, evenness, and cadence. Pivoting him in a turnaround box or keyhole strengthens his core, which contributes to his “lift” (shoulders up, back rounded). Obstacle work is like cross-training at the gym. Different muscles get toned, improving overall athleticism.

Your horse’s attitude. L back-throughs, sidepass poles, rope drags and the like provide a pleasing change of activity for your horse (and you). Having a few obstacles available makes it possible for you to break up your other schooling routines with something different. This helps to keep your horse’s outlook positive, which in turn makes him happier and more willing.

Add in the plain-ol’-fun quotient, and what other motivation do you need to start enlivening your riding with work over obstacles?

WANT MORE? CONSIDER THIS: Groundwork using obstacles.